Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) stood up courageously against genocide denial by the Bush Administration, forcing the White House to withdraw the nomination of Richard Hoagland as Ambassador to Armenia.
After the Administration cut short the diplomatic career of Amb. John Evans for having acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, Menendez placed a hold on the nomination of his successor. During his testimony in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in his subsequent written communication to committee members, Amb. Hoagland had raised questions regarding the validity of the Armenian Genocide.
Recognizing his principled stand on the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region honored Sen. Menendez as Man of the Year during the ANC-WR’s annual banquet on Sept. 30, 2007 in Los Angeles.
In an exclusive interview preceding the banquet, Menendez told this writer that he had become aware of the Armenian Genocide many years ago as a member of the House of Representatives. The Senator stated that he had learned of the Hoagland controversy from ANCA and this writer’s many columns on this issue.
Menendez said he was incensed that Evans was being "punished" by the State Department for telling the truth. However, he said he decided to place a hold on Hoagland’s nomination only after hearing the nominee’s questionable statemen’s on the Armenian Genocide. He concluded that Hoagland was simply "not fit to serve" as Ambassador to Armenia.
Menendez revealed that various attempts were made by the White House, the State Department, lobbying firms hired by Turkey and the Turkish-American community of New Jersey to pressure him to remove his hold. He rejected all such attempts and told those pressuring him that having an Ambassador who does not deny the Genocide is much more important than not having an Ambassador at all in Armenia. The Ambassador’s functions could easily be performed by the Charge D’Affaires and other State Department officials, he said.
The Bush Administration tried to mislead Menendez by telling him that he should remove his hold since Armenia had no objections to Hoagland. Menendez countered those misrepresentations by stating that Armenia’s leaders, despite their serious misgivings about the forced retirement of Evans and Hoagland’s statemen’s on the Armenian Genocide, were not in a position to reject the nominee of the President of the United States. Nevertheless, Menendez said that he takes his cues from neither the Armenian government nor the U.S. Administration. "I do what is right," he said. "I listen to the views of all my constituents, but make up my own mind."
Sen. Menendez said he was puzzled by the Bush Administration’s decision to nominate Hoagland for a second time in January 2007. After last November’s election, Democrats were politically much stronger to resist pressures from the Bush Administration, having won majorities in both the House and the Senate. Furthermore, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Menendez had sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Rice in December 2006, asking her to withdraw Hoagland’s nomination. Menendez told this writer that the Bush Administration either believed that he had placed the hold as a campaign ploy for his own re-election or that "I was kidding!" Menendez said he was dead serious and promptly placed a second hold on Hoagland’s nomination, thus ending any chance the nominee had to serve as Ambassador to Armenia. Bush, realizing the futility of his efforts, finally withdrew Hoagland’s name.
Menedez decried the fact that the Administration had made no effort to reach out to the leadership of the Armenian-American community and discuss with them the Evans/Hoagland issue. "This Administration is all-knowing and divinely-directed. That’s the problem. They have become insular. They don’t believe in consulting. The Constitution provides for checks and balances. We need robust oversight on foreign policy matters. No rubber stamps," Menendez said emphatically.
Regarding the critical question about the fate of the next ambassadorial nominee for Armenia, Menendez said that he had no objection to another candidate as long as that person "has a view different than Hoagland on the Armenian Genocide." He added, "the Administration should allow the next nominee to speak his or her mind on this issue."
In his remarks at the ANC-WR banquet, Menendez said that the next nominee as Ambassador to Armenia’should be able to answer the following question: "Do you agree that there was an Armenian Genocide?" He clearly implied that a "no" answer would subject him or her to the same fate as Hoagland.
Sen. Menendez ended his remarks by urging Bush to change his policy and acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. If he won’t, then the next President will, said the Senator to thunderous applause.